Monday, January 31, 2011

4th Century Preaching - Obedience in Marriage, What it Ain't

Icon by the hand of Nicholas Papas and available for purchase from Come and See Icons.

This will be the last installation for the month from On Living Simply (which can be purchased here ).  It's a terrific little book with 84 mini sermons in all.  In addition to St. John's sermons on social issues, his Scriptural exegesis' are among the finest to be found in the history of Christianity. I recommend the book The Bible and the Holy Fathers compiled by Johanna Manley and published by SVS Press. It's a little pricey, $60, but well worth it if you love the Scriptures (which we all should!) St. John Chrysostom's commentaries make up a large portion of this book and seamlessly reside next to commentaries from the 20th century. 

St. John is also the author of many prayers and the one responsible for writing a shorter version of the Divine Liturgy (the primary worship service of the Orthodox Church in which the Eucharist is served) that is used during "regular" days in the Orthodox Church.  Needless to say, St. John Chrysostom is a very prominent figure in the Orthodox Church.  He is remembered three times during the year: November 13th, January 27th, and January 30th. 

I thought for the last installment I would return to the topic of marriage and obedience.   I know there are some Christians (and other faiths) that believe that obedience in a marriage is akin to obedience in the military.  In Orthodox Christianity, we adhere to the Scriptural teaching that husband and wife are obedient to each other, and not one barking orders to the other.  Here's what our beloved St. John says from excerpt 72:

When we speak of the wife obeying the husband, we normally think of obedience in military or political terms:  the husband giving orders, and the wife obeying them.  But while this type of obedience may be appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage.  The obedient wife does not wait for orders.  Rather, she tries to discern her husband's needs and feelings, and responds in love.  When she sees her husband is weary, she encourages him to rest; when she sees him agitated, she soothes him; when he is ill, she nurses and comforts him; when he is happy and elated, she shares his joy.  Yet such obedience should not be confined to the wife; the husband should be obedient in the same way.  When she is weary, he should relieve her of her work; when she is sad, he should cherish her, holding her gently in his arms; when she is in good cheer, he should also share her good cheer.  Thus a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.
That's it for January.  I'm still waffling on February's topic.  I have a few ideas knocking around in my noggin, but if you have any ideas, leave a comment and I'll see if I'm smart enough to tackle it!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

4th Century Preaching - Takin' it and Dishin' it out.

The greatest test of friendship is whether one person can reprove the other.  All of us commit sins from time to time; and all of us try to blind ourselves to our sins, making excuses for ourselves, or pretending the sin did not even occur.  At such times we need friends to open our eyes to the reality of our sins.  Put yourself now in the position of the friend.  Are you willing to open that person's eyes?  Are you willing to expose the excuses as false?  Are you prepared to risk that person's wrath, as wounded pride rises up in anger?  Or do you prefer to blind yourself to your friend's faults, and so join a conspiracy of blindness?  In choosing our friends, we should embrace those who are willing to be honest with us, and those prepared if necessary to endure our anger.  Without such honesty the friendship has no depth, and is useless.  Yet when it is your duty to express criticism to a friend, beware of destroying that friend's self-respect.  Always soften your reproof with words of affirmation, in which you acknowledge their virtue.  And ensure that our own motives are good:  that love, not jealousy or anger, is the true wellspring of your words.
-Excerpt #48, On Living Simply.

This is undoubtedly one of the hardest things to do and sometimes takes a whole lotta courage, especially if the person is like the one described in the previous post.   And of course being the one reproached can be equally if not more difficult.  I guess it boils down to two things really, courage and humility.   Well no..wait...3 things...courage, humility and love.  Always love.

I would like to direct your attention to a fine blog posting from yesterday written about this very thing by a priest in the 21st century, Fr. Michael, who serves at Holy Nativity Church in Canada.  Click here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

4th Century Preaching - Advice for Bullies

One of my all time favorite movie quotes comes from A Bronx Tale, a 1993 movie about a young boy who gets involved in the workings of the street life in the Bronx.  I don't remember too many details about the movie, except for this quote.

Is it better to be loved or feared? That's a good question. It's great to be both, but it's very difficult. But if I had my choice, I would rather be feared. Fear lasts longer than love.
Now this quote was from a mobster, not exactly a profession that touts virtuous behaviour, but I have noticed in my almost 41 years of life that this seems to be a common mode of existence for some people.  I've known bosses, neighbors, even "friends" that have embraced this modus operandi.  They would rather be feared than loved, so they bully and threaten which then forces you to walk on eggshells 24/7 hoping not to anger them.   Probably the worst situation for this is in a marriage.  Here's what St. John Chrysostom says in Excerpt 74 from On Living Simply:

Those who treat their servants harshly, instilling fear into them with angry words and threats, may succeed om compelling their servants to work hard; but servants feel no attachment to their masters, and at the first opportunity run away.  How much worse is it for a husband to use angry words and threats to his wife.  Yet many men frequently try to intimidate their wives.  They lift up their voices and shout; they demand instant compliance to their every whim; they even raise their arms to force their wives to submit.  Wives treated in this fashion become no more than sullen servants, acting as their husbands require out of cold fear.  Is this the kind of woman you want?  Does it really satisfy you to have a wife that is petrified of you?  Of course not.  Indulging your ill-temper at the expense of your wife may give some immediate relief to your emotions; but it brings no lasting joy or pleasure.  Yet if you treat your wife as a free woman, respecting her ideas and intuitions, and responding with warmth to her feelings and emotions, then your marriage shall be a limitless source of blessing to you.
You know, you read this and say to yourself...yeah he's right, but then you move onto other things and forget the words.  However, if this was spoken to you, with vocal inflections and facial expressions, how much more powerful are these words?  I wonder how many people stomped out of church after hearing this preached?  And I wonder how many women sighed with relief to know that their situation had not gone unnoticed and were reassured through St. John's words that God cares for their well-being?

Monday, January 10, 2011

4th Century Preaching - Christian Hypocrisy

Okay this next installation from On Living Simply is a little more harsh.  Excerpt 10:
We who are disciples of Christ claim that our purpose on earth is to lay up treasures in heaven.  But our actions often belie our words.  Many Christians build for themselves fine houses, lay out splendid gardens, construct bathhouses, and buy fields.  It is small wonder, then, that many pagans refuse to believe what we say.  "If their eyes are set on mansions in heaven," they ask, "why are they building mansions on earth?  If they put their words into practice, they would give away their riches and live in simple huts."  So these pagans conclude that we do not sincerely believe in the religion we profess; and as a result they refuse to take this religion seriously.  You may say that the words of Christ on these matters are too hard for you to follow;  and that while your spirit is willing, your flesh is weak.  My answer is that the judgment of the pagans about you is more accurate than your judgment of yourself.  When the pagans accuse us of hypocrisy, many of us should plead guilty.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Theophany Thoughts from St. John Chrysostom

Today is the Feast of Theophany (sometimes called Epiphany) in the Orthodox Church here in America.  Last night as I was preparing myself for today's feast I read Isaiah 35:1-10, and for whatever reason, it really caught my attention.  Then again this morning I heard it chanted during the Blessing of the Waters and it sounded even more magnificent than just reading it.  Here it is:

1 The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;
2 It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice,
Even with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
The excellence of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
The excellency of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
And make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
“ Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert.
7 The parched ground shall become a pool,
And the thirsty land springs of water;
In the habitation of jackals, where each lay,
There shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there, and a road,
And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean shall not pass over it,
But it shall be for others.
Whoever walks the road, although a fool,
Shall not go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
Nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it;
It shall not be found there.
But the redeemed shall walk there,
10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Perhaps it is the fact that I live in the desert and I see the barrenness, the inhospitably of it all that the thought of it in bloom with free-flowing water and reed and rushes....well...that would be simply heavenly.  This scripture sort of raised me out of the dry dirt for a moment.  I guess you have to live here to understand what desert life is like.  A day of rain can make the desert paradise. 

Anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled program...below you will find a link to a discourse on the Feast of Theophany.  In being true to his personality, St. John Chrysostom begins with this:

We shall now say something about the present feast. Many celebrate the feastdays and know their designations, but the cause for which they were established they know not. Thus concerning this – that the present feast is called Theophany – everyone knows. But what this is – Theophany – and whether it be one thing or another, they know not. This is shameful – to celebrate the feastday annually, and not know its meaning.
I love that part in bold (my emphasis) pointing out how shameful it is to celebrate a feast and not know its meaning.  He's right, it is shameful.  You wouldn't show up at someone's house for a party and not know for what reason! 

You'll find the rest here from the OCA website.  Additionally, I had another post which mentioned today's feast if you are interested found here.

More St. John tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

4th Century Preaching - Don't Be Stupid

This month I will be posting a few reflections written by St. John Chrysostom. Some will be from a small book entitled On Living Simply compiled by Robert Van de Weyer  (it can be purchased here at Amazon) and the others will be from various sources.   Although St. John, an Orthodox Christian priest, lived in the late fourth, early fifth century, his homilies are timeless.   His title "Chrysostom" literally means "Golden-Mouthed".  St. John was ruthless in his sermons, and everyone was fair game.  Rich or poor, peasant or royalty, Christian or didn't matter.  Where hypocrisy was to be found, St. John exposed it.

To quote the introduction from the book On Living Simply: "One suspects that John Chrysostom would be as unpopular today among the privileged members of society as he was in the fourth century - and as popular among the common people."
This first one is pretty tame actually.  I thought I would ease you into the New Year.

Excerpt #17 from the book On Living Simply:

Consider how an ear of corn is produced.  Most of us would point to the labor of the farmer in tilling the soil, sowing the seed, and harvesting the grain.  But it is not as simple as that.  The farmer needs the blacksmith to make the spade, ploughshare, sickle, and axe.  He needs the carpenter to make a frame for the plough and to make a yoke for the horse.  He needs the leather worker to make the harness.  He needs the builder to make a stable for the horse, and a barn to store the hay and grain.  He needs a baker to turn the grain into bread, otherwise his labors are worthless.  And he needs the forest worker to provide wood for the carpenter to saw, and wood for the baker to heat the oven.  So just to produce corn many different people are needed.  Since we depend on one another for our very survival, why do we ever try to exploit and cheat one another?  Nothing could be more stupid and irrational to try and get the better of someone else;  people who cheat and exploit others are cheating and exploiting themselves.

Seems like such common sense, but certainly we need to ask ourselves, even to the smallest degree, am I impeding the life of another in some way?  We are all guilty of it I think.  An unkind word, a curt glance which expresses our displeasure with someone, not putting something back where it belongs in a grocery store because "it's somebody else's job".  While not outright cheating or exploiting, I think these actions fall into the same category.  When you hurt other people or cause extra unnecessary work for others, you are also hurting yourself, and as St. John points out, this is stupid and irrational.  Guess it isn't such common sense after all.